In the sixth month of the twenty-fifth year of Great Yong’s Wuwei era, the Emperor issued an edict, announcing to the world that he was offering sacrifices to the Yellow Emperor. An altar was established at Qiaoshan,1 while the Crown Prince was ordered to preside over the secondary altar set up in Chang’an. Unexpectedly, the Crown Prince’s behavior was lacking. In anger, the Emperor ordered the Crown Prince be placed under house arrest.…
—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Prince of Li
Seeing this, True Compassion smiled faintly and replied, “Your Imperial Highness, the Shaolin Temple is only doing this because there is no alternative. The conduct and deeds of His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince,, although not yet revealed to the whole world, cannot be concealed from the common people. Moreover, the perverse way that the Fengyi Sect has handled matters recently has roiled up the entire jianghu. The Shaolin Temple, as the most orthodox sect, cannot idly watch this happen. Your Imperial Highness has always given my temple kindness and your governance protects the people. Although my temple cannot become involved in political struggles, the Fengyi Sect is still a jianghu sect. As such, my temple is still able to do some things.”
Both the prince and I relaxed. So the Shaolin Temple was no longer unable to put up with the Fengyi Sect’s arrogant and unbridled shenanigans, and was intent on seeking redress for grievances old and new. The Fengyi Sect had seized the opportunity presented by Huo Jicheng’s appearance in jianghu to purge dissident factions in wulin. This matter could not be revealed. At most, only a select few could know of this, otherwise I would become the main culprit for throwing jianghu into calamity and chaos.
At this moment, True Compassion continued, “This old cassock is here today for another matter as well. Recently, His Imperial Majesty intends to offer sacrifices at the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor. This old cassock’s senior apprentice brother, Compassionate Respite, has been ordered to preside over the ceremony. Although senior apprentice brother’s dharma1 is profound, he is not adept at martial arts. Therefore, this old cassock came specially to protect him.”
Both Li Zhi and I gave mental nods. We were aware of this matter. Great Master Compassionate Respite was once an important official of the previous dynasty. After the dynasty fell, he had become a Buddhist monk. At present, he was one of the most senior Buddhist monks. His understanding of dharma was profound. Over these years, he had translated over a thousand scrolls of Buddhist Sanskrit scriptures and was the greatest contributor to the promotion of Buddhism. He definitely deserved True Compassion’s personal escort when leaving the temple. Although True Compassion was a generational grandmaster, his standing in Buddhism was far less respected and honored compared to his senior apprentice brother. Thinking of this, I could not help but be filled with regret. It was likely that the sacrificial ceremony at the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor wouldn’t end well.
Since its founding, Great Yong had held sacrificial ceremonies several times. This time was somewhat different. The emperor would naturally have to go personally to Qiaoshan. However, at the same time, he would have also to set up an altar in Chang’an, simultaneously offering sacrifices, requesting that the fate of Great Yong remain flourishing and prosperous. Normally, only the heir apparent could be considered a candidate for these secondary sacrifices. Therefore, from the sixth month on, the emperor had ordered the crown prince to enter the Eastern Palace to fast, while the emperor himself abstained from sex and food. Only on the tenth day of the sixth month would the emperor begin his journey to the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor. The ceremony would be held on the fifteenth day of the sixth month. Those ordered to accompany the emperor were the Princes of Yong and Qi, and a large number of ranking civil and military officials. At the same time, Prime Minister Wei Guan and Palace Attendant Zheng Xia would remain in Chang’an to aid the crown prince in sacrificing to the Heavens.
The necessary observed rites were quite fastidious—one was not permitted to eat meat, drink alcohol, listen to music, have sexual relations, or pay condolences, and also not allowed to pay attention to penal matters. Moreover, one had to be calm and patient but not be jittery or restless. However, how could Crown Prince Li An restrain himself? Eating only tasteless food had already made it difficult for him to swallow it. It was fine if he didn’t need to handle government affairs, as he was already fed up with all of it, but being prohibited from listening to music and watching dancing caused him to be filled with gloom. What he found most difficult to endure was that he needed to sleep alone every night. Being unable to have sexual relations caused him to be jittery and distressed, especially as he would have to endure it for half a month. What’s more, under Zheng Xia’s supervision, he could only scrupulously adhere to the prohibitions. Were it not for the significance of this matter, he would have been unwilling to endure long ago. In his heart, he was determined that when he ascended to the throne, he would ensure that the sacrificial ceremonies wouldn’t be so troublesome.
When the eunuch delivering the lunch arrived, he set plates of green vegetables and radishes onto the table. He also brought out a bowl of coarse rice. Lastly, a pot of tea. Li An once again cursed the Heavens. Then he picked up the chopsticks and carelessly ate. Finished, he drank the tea. When the tea entered his mouth, a sensation of bliss immediately ran through his entire body.
Even before he entered the Eastern Palace to fast, the crown prince had already known that it would be too much to subsist on plain tea and simple food. As such, he had ordered subordinates to secretly change out the coarse tea for ginseng tea. This was an idea put forward by Xia Jinyi. Without this ginseng tea, it was likely that the crown prince’s appearance would have become haggard from poor diet. It was a pity that this wasn’t a pot of wine. Having drunk a cup, Li An could feel his vitality improve greatly and thus placed the pot of tea to the side, preparing to imbibe some more during the afternoon scripture study session.
The eunuch withdrawing the meal was agile, rapidly completing his work. Afterwards, Zheng Xia arrived to personally deliver the scriptures that Li An was to recite aloud in the afternoon. Li An impatiently glanced at the box filled with scriptures, wishing to take a nap instead. However, after many days of preserving his strength for the final push, Li An longed for his women. No matter how he tossed and turned, he could not fall asleep. He could not help but think of Concubine Chun. Having not seen her for many days, he wondered about her current situation. The more he thought of her, the more he felt himself itch all over and could not help but sit up. Rather than continue to toss and turn, he rose and got out of bed, intending to take a walk outside.
After walking out of his sleeping chambers, Li An saw the entire Eastern Palace surrounded by imperial bodyguards. As for Palace Attendant Zheng Xia, he was nowhere to be seen. Replacing him was an official from the Ministry of Personnel.
Walking forward, Li An casually asked, “Where is Zheng daren?”
The official reverently responded, “Your Imperial Highness, Prime Minister Wei dispatched someone to invite Zheng daren over to discuss the sacrificial ceremony. He will return sometime between 1 and 3 PM.”
Li An was overjoyed. If Zheng Xia were present, he would not dare to be wanton. But with Zheng Xia gone, then there would be no harm for him to have a stroll within the palace. Looking around, Li An caught sight of his trusted imperial bodyguard, Xia Jinyi, standing nearby in attendance. In a low voice, Li An stated, “Jinyi, We wish throw darts into a pot. Secretly bring it over. Be sure to not let anyone see you.”
Hearing Li An’s words, Xia Jinyi looked around for a moment before replying, “Wait a moment, Your Imperial Highness, this subordinate will go to fetch it now.”
It wasn’t long before Xia Jinyi returned with darts and a pot. These items were some of Li An’s most beloved and had always been kept within the Eastern Palace. Whenever he became gloomy from reading the memorials, he would play this to pass the time. This silver pot had a wide body and a long, narrow neck. It was filled with some beans in order to increase the difficulty. If one used too much strength, the dart would bounce back out. Each and every dart was manufactured with extreme care and precision, exquisite and beautiful.
Xia Jinyi handed over the darts. With a smile, he said, “Your Imperial Highness, please be lenient. Last time, this subordinate lost miserably.”
With a laugh, Li An replied, “With regards to this game, none of you are my match.” So speaking, he threw dart and as expected, it landed in the pot. Li An smiled with delight, but after winning several rounds, he found it completely dull. In the past, Xia Jinyi would frequently have Li An lose a few rounds before allowing Li An to turn the tide. Naturally, this would leave him extremely happy. However, today, Xia Jinyi repeatedly made mistakes, allowing Li An to win easily. As a result, his spirits could not help but drop and he angrily questioned, “Jinyi, are you being perfunctory towards Us?”
Xia Jinyi promptly answered, “Your Imperial Highness, how dare this subordinate be perfunctory? It is only that this subordinate is being distracted by some matters.”
Suspicious, Li An inquired, “What is causing you to have such a heavy load on your mind?”
“Today, this subordinate received a keepsake,” responded Xia Jinyi. “Originally, I had planned on handing it to Your Imperial Highness, but Your Imperial Highness is currently fasting and thus did not dare to deliver it.”
“I thought it would be something else,” remarked Li An with a smile. “Give me the keepsake.”
Xia Jinyi did not dare refuse, promptly removing a silk spice bag from his bosom. Accepting it, Li An saw that the spice bag was exquisitely manufactured. On it was embroidered a pair of lotus flowers on one stalk. Enraptured, as he opened the bag. Within, aside from a small bag full of fragrance, was an emerald-green silk handkerchief as thin as a cicada’s wings. On the handkerchief was embroidered a pair of red-feathered and white-headed, neck-intertwined mandarin ducks. Below was a short poem:
Upon the heavenly dais, gazing off into distance at the partitioning into the mist,
Pining incessantly for the waning moon in the Heavens.
Tonight, the red bean repeatedly has appointments,
The early morning dew is blown by the golden breeze beside the pillow.
Li An could only feel his heart flutter. The affection in this silk handkerchief was touching. Was it delivered by Concubine Chun?
While in the middle of his reverie, Xia Jinyi spoke up. “Your Imperial Highness, the one who delivered this token was one of the trusted little eunuchs beside Concubine Chun. However, Your Imperial Highness is presently fasting. This token of affection is inappropriate, and thus, this subordinate did not dare deliver it. However, if I were to confiscate it, I would be disloyal to Your Imperial Highness. As a result, this subordinate was in a difficult position.”
Li An smiled and replied, “Your actions have merit and are innocent. All right, dismissed. This Prince should recite these scriptures.” Xia Jinyi promptly collected the darts and the pot, withdrawing.
Under the afternoon night, on the surface, Li An seemed to be focused on the scriptures, but he was scheming in his head. Concubine Chun was definitely inviting him to an engagement tonight, but at present, he could not have sexual relations. He absolutely could not do this. Thinking of Concubine Chun’s beautiful and tender appearance, her enchanting body that had practiced dance for a long time, Li An could feel his loins itch. What’s more, after that argument with Concubine Xiao, he had never entered the palace to have relations with Concubine Chun. At present, he had fasted in the Eastern Palace for twelve days and had already found it difficult to sleep at night. Once he thought of Concubine Chun waiting for him, he could not help but feel like he had ants in his pants,3 letting his imagination run wild.
When night arrived and he laid in bed, Li An found it increasingly difficult to fall asleep. At long last, he rose from bed, draping a set of robes over his shoulders. Seeing that the little eunuchs assigned to attend to him sound asleep outside of the chambers, he softly walked to the entrance and looked out, catching sight of several imperial bodyguards on duty. Walking to the side chambers, he saw Xia Jinyi sleeping in his uniform. This was the custom for the imperial bodyguards assigned to the Eastern Palace. Li An walked softly to Xia Jinyi’s side and gave him a gentle push. Immediately roused from his sleep, Xia Jinyi quickly lowered his hand to his waist. Even though he did not yet have the qualifications to be armed in the Eastern Palace, Li An knew that Xia Jinyi had concealed weapons hidden at his waist. Li An hurriedly whispered, “It’s me.”
Instantly waking up, Xia Jinyi promptly rose out of bed and kneeled on the ground. Just as he was about to pay his respects, Li An had already waved his hand to order him to cease. In a low voice, Li An requested, “Accompany me to see Concubine Chun. Do not disturb any outsiders.”
Greatly alarmed, Xia Jinyi declared, “Your Imperial Highness, you absolutely cannot do this! If this matter were found out, the Emperor would most certainly be furious.”
Li An smiled and replied, “No one will know. We’ll go and hurry back quickly. There won’t be any obstructions.”
As Xia Jinyi persisted in his attempts to convince Li An otherwise, the crown prince angrily reprimanded, “Usually you are completely obedient to Us. Why are you so pigheaded today? Why haven’t you risen to your feet and come along Us?”
A look of determination flashing in his eyes, Xia Jinyi replied, “This subordinate obeys. It is only that it is inevitably a bit inappropriate for Your Imperial Highness to go like this. It would be better to change.”
Thinking this reasonable, Li An changed into an imperial bodyguard’s uniform. Leading Xia Jinyi, the two stealthily made their way to Concubine Chun’s quarters. Although there were many imperial bodyguards in the palace, Xia Jinyi was quite adept at sneaking about to dally with women. As a result, the two did not run into that many people. They did run into an imperial guard patrol once, but had been able to acquire passage using Xia Jinyi’s pendant signifying his status as an imperial bodyguard of the Eastern Palace and his flowery flattery.
Arriving at Concubine Chun’s quarters, Li An pushed open the doors in a hurry. Sure enough, the door wasn’t locked. Li An walked inside, but did not see a single soul. He surmised that Concubine Chun had already sent away all of her maids and eunuchs. Quickly, Li An walked into the sleeping chambers. There, he caught sight of a small silver lamp on the table. On the silk brocade bed, Concubine Chun lay, wearing only a gauze-thin chemise. She was sound asleep, her two jade-like arms exposed above the silk brocade quilt, making her even more alluring. Her trusted maids were not in attendance. It could clearly be seen that Concubine Chun had been waiting for a long while and could not help but fall asleep. The more he thought, the more Li An felt guilty. In addition, the desire induced by Concubine Chun could no longer be contained. After casually shedding his clothes, Li An threw himself at the bed.
Concubine Chun was originally sound asleep. Suddenly, she felt someone press down on her. Still half-asleep, she had no capability to resist. After a while, she woke up. Discovering that someone was playing with her, she planned to cry out in alarm, but the familiarity of this man caused her shout to die in her throat. Under the dusky light, after she had identified the man, she could not help but be startled. Why would the crown prince come to have relations with her while he was fasting? However, before long, she became fully absorbed by the crown prince’s frantic lovemaking, no longer worrying any further.
While they were making love, Xia Jinyi panicked. He had secretly investigated and discovered that all of the eunuchs and maids were sleeping heavily. It was clear that they had all had their sleep acupoints pressed. It seemed that this place had already been turned into a trap. The crown prince was already an elk that had fallen into the trap. Xia Jinyi, himself, was only the accomplice helping tighten the rope. But after thinking it over, Xia Jinyi realized that the crown prince’s conduct did not deserve his sympathy. He had better take the medicine at once to prevent himself from dying miserably.
Xia Jinyi rapidly took the medicine that Jiang Zhe had given him, swallowing the green-colored pill. A sort of heart-cleansing, faint fragrance caused him to feel carefree and relaxed. Then he carefully hid the black-colored pill. He needed to ensure that he did not lose this pill. He stood outside of the palace hall, silently waiting, not knowing whether he was waiting for the crown prince to come out or for the crown prince’s conduct to be exposed and the difficult, dangerous situation to begin.
Not long after the crown prince entered Concubine Chun’s chambers, Li Yuan still slept soundly in the Fasting Palace. He was already old, treating the many days of fasting as recuperation that purified his heart and diminished his passions. Suddenly, he was startled half-awake and saw a bright red shining through the paper window. He could not help but drape clothes over his shoulders and rise out of bed. Loudly, he asked, “Gao Hou, Leng Chuan, what has happened outside?”
A forty-year-old eunuch in almond-colored clothes hurriedly entered and reported, “The Eastern Palace has caught fire. At present, the imperial bodyguards are putting out the fire. Supervisor Leng is outside, protecting Your Imperial Majesty.”
Li Yuan was greatly startled. Today was already the twelfth day. Why would something like this happen before the sacrificial ceremony? This was enormously foreboding. Thinking of the fire in the Eastern Palace, Li Yuan could not help but feel an ominous premonition. He asked, “Where is the Crown Prince? Quickly bring him over! Nothing can happen to him!”
Somewhat uneasy, Gao Hou stole a furtive glance at the emperor, but did not dare to speak. Li Yuan furiously asked, “What is going on? Has the Crown Prince been injured?”
Gao Hou had no choice but to respond, “His Imperial Highness is fasting in the Eastern Palace and is the responsibility of Palace Attendant Zheng Xia. However, when the Eastern Palace caught fire tonight, Palace Attendant Zheng dispatched men to rescue the Crown Prince, but did not find the Crown Prince inside.”
Feeling as if a basin of cold water had been poured on him, Li Yuan felt his heart grow cold, as he slowly and deliberately inquired, “Where did the Crown Prince go?”
Drenched with cold sweat, Gao Hou replied, “This servant does not know. However, just now, after Palace Attendant Zheng dispatched men to investigate, they discovered that two of the imperial bodyguards of the Eastern Palace went to the Cherishing Fragrance Palace Hall.” Speaking to this point, Gao Hou was already trembling with fear.
Dumbstruck, Li Yuan muttered, “Cherishing Fragrance Palace Hall … Concubine Chun … Humph… Leng Chuan, accompany me to the Cherishing Fragrance Palace Hall.”
A figure flitted and a middle-aged man in the uniform of the Supervisor of the Imperial Palace Guard entered. While this middle-aged man’s appearance was average, his bearing was natural and poised. Cold light radiated from his eyes. He was the Yong Emperor’s trusted imperial palace guardsman, possessing excellent martial arts. He had Li Yuan’s entire confidence. At present, he was the Supervisor of the Imperial Palace Guard and was greatly favored by the emperor. Indifferently, he stated, “There is no need for Your Imperial Majesty to be overly distressed as it would not to harm your health.”
Li Yuan coldly replied, “All right. Quickly go to the Cherishing Fragrance Palace Hall. Instruct Xiahou Yuanfeng: take all of the eunuchs, maids, and imperial bodyguards in the Eastern Palace into custody. There can be no mistakes.”
Leading Leng Chuan, Gao Hou, and several other imperial bodyguards and eunuchs, Li Yuan swiftly raced to the Cherishing Fragrance Palace Hall. When he arrived, the excitement had not yet spread there. No one seemed to be aware that something had happened in the Eastern Palace. With a single look from Li Yuan, one of the imperial bodyguards advanced and kicked open the door to the hall. Standing in the hall in front of the door, on guard, Xia Jinyi trembled. Gazing up, he saw Yong Emperor Li Yuan glaring at him in rage under the moonlight. Contrary to expectations, Xia Jinyi’s actually calmed down. Turning around, he cried out, “His Imperial Majesty has arrived!”
An ominous glint flashed in Li Yuan’s eyes. Without needing instructions, Leng Chuan darted out and a heavy palm landed onto Xia Jinyi’s back, sending Xia Jinyi flying into the air. Feeling as if he were mounting the clouds and riding the mist, Xia Jinyi slammed into the wall. In an instant, the violent and ferocious internal energy penetrated into all of his arteries and channels. His gaze darkening, Xia Jinyi fainted.
Li Yuan didn’t even bother sparing a glance at the killed imperial bodyguard, instead bursting into the sleeping quarters. Within, he caught sight of his eldest son on the silk brocade bed, his complexion deathly pale. Concubine Chun was completely naked, sitting there in bed, completely scared out of her wits. Li Yuan felt his insides burn, his eyes and head growing dim and dizzy. Stumbling, he almost fell to the floor, only held steady by Gao Hou and several eunuchs. Li Yuan did not bother to ask for an explanation, instead angrily commanding, “Leng Chuan, kill this unfilial son.”
A look flashed across Leng Chuan’s face, and yet he did not dare to carry out the imperial order, remaining silent and motionless. Li Yuan angrily shouted, “What? Are you not listening to Us as well?”
Leng Chuan impartially explained himself. “Your Imperial Majesty, even if he is guilty, this matter must be explained to the world. How can the situation be handled in this way?”
At first, Li Yuan’s command was a result of his anger. After hearing Leng Chuan’s words, Li Yuan calmed down. At this moment, Li An had already sobered up, throwing himself onto the floor, he repeatedly kowtowed, as he declared, “Imperial Father, please spare me. Imperial Father, please spare me.”
With a look of loathing, Li Yuan glanced at his eldest son and kicked him, sending him flying off to the side. Furiously, Li Yuan commanded, “Gao Hou, have this unfilial son delivered to the Brocade Peace Palace Hall and place him under house arrest. Prohibit all visitors. In addition, execute everyone within this Cherishing Fragrance Palace Hall. Concubine Chun … We do not wish to see Concubine Chun ever again.” Finished speaking, Li Yuan turned and departed. Leng Chuan quickly followed behind and left.
Under orders, Gao Hou stayed behind. Outside, with a shout from Gao Hou, the imperial bodyguards charged into the palace hall like tigers and wolves. It wasn’t before long that all of the eunuchs and maids of the Cherishing Fragrance Palace Hall had been strangled to death. The majority of them had just awoken from their dreams. Even before they knew what was happening, they had already lost their lives.
Xia Jinyi had awoken when Li Yuan and company had entered the sleeping quarters. With difficulty, he took out the black pill and noticed its peculiar scent. Staking his life on the pill, Xia Jinyi took it and immediately felt his limbs grow numb. His entire body was incapable of movement and he no longer had any strength to keep his eyes open. However, he did have one single shred of feeling. It wasn’t long before Li Yuan departed and the imperial bodyguards began to fulfill the emperor’s command and silence all of the witnesses. When they arrived before Xia Jinyi, one of the imperial bodyguards checked Xia Jinyi’s breathing and stated, “This man is already dead. In reality, there’s no need to even check. When Supervisor Leng takes action, how can anyone survive?”
桥山, Qiaoshan – in modern-day Shaanxi province, the location of the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor (黄帝陵); the earliest known sacrifices here to the Yellow Emperor were made in 442 BC
佛法, fofa – dharma (the teachings of the Buddha)
心猿意马, xinyuanyima – idiom, lit. heart like a frisky monkey, mind like a cantering horse; fig. capricious; to have ants in one’s pants